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William Goebel

William Goebel: The Politics of Wrath

JAMES C. KLOTTER
Copyright Date: 1977
Edition: 1
Pages: 152
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130hzkf
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    William Goebel
    Book Description:

    The turbulent career of William Goebel (1856--1900), which culminated in assassination, marked an end-of-the-century struggle for political control of Kentucky. Although populism had become a strong force in the nation, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad and ex-Confederates still dominated the state and its Democratic party. Touting reforms and attaching the railroad monopoly, Goebel challenged this old order.

    A Yankee in a state that fancied itself southern, Goebel had to depend on a strong organization to win votes. As "The Kenton King" he created a new style of politics. To some he was a progressive reformer; to others, a tyrannical machine boss. His drive for power and his enemies' fierce opposition aroused violent political factionalism. Goebel's fateful duel with a rival, his partisan election law, and his ruthless convention tactics led to the bitterly contested gubernatorial election of 1899 that resulted in his murder.

    Although the full truth about the murder was never revealed in nearly a decade of trials and the advent of progressive politics was long delayed in Kentucky, Goebel's death did relieve the state's political turmoil and induce some legal reforms. Using new sources and fresh perspectives, James C. Klotter portrays Goebel's tumultuous era and discovers the real man within the obscurity of his conflicting images.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4817-5
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 ʺLOOK UPON OPPOSITION AS OPPORTUNITYʺ
    (pp. 1-9)

    Early on Tuesday morning, the sixth of February 1900, a train carrying the assassinated governor’s body slowly moved from Cincinnati toward the station at Covington. Men, women, and children, old and young, friend and foe, lined the tracks to watch the train pass. Stores shut down and workers left their jobs. Thousands gathered at the station and silently watched the pallbearers lift out the casket. William Goebel was returning home.

    As the procession moved toward the hall where the body would lie in state crowds grew so thick that police had to clear the way. Finally the cortege reached its...

  5. 2 REBELS, REACTIONARIES, AND REFORMERS
    (pp. 10-18)

    On 30 December 1887, William Goebel took the oath required of a new state senator. With that he formally entered the political world he had long observed and had long prepared for, a world whose immediate origins went back to the Civil War. By the beginning of that war the Democratic party ruled from an unexpected position of prominence in the commonwealth. Kentucky was once a Whig stronghold and a virtual fiefdom of Henry Clay. But Clay’s death in 1852 and his party’s decline soon after had left Kentucky politics in disarray. A strong but short-lived, nativist, Know-Nothing movement had...

  6. 3 GOEBEL AND THE GOVERNORS
    (pp. 19-31)

    The political world William Goebel entered in December 1887 was rapidly changing, as he had quickly discovered in his campaign. Old alliances faded as quickly as new ones were made. In this quicksand of transitional politics, Goebel faced the added burden of being basically a northerner in a state that thought itself southern. His past political allies had gotten him to the state senate, but one short session did not afford much time to rise above the commonplace. Consequently, in the legislature the freshman senator from Kenton sought and commanded notice quickly. He did so by following the old dictum...

  7. 4 ʺDIVISION AND DISCORDʺ
    (pp. 32-51)

    With his selection as leader in the senate in 1894 Goebel seemed to be rising toward his ambition of higher political office. But events over the next two years made such an occurrence seem an utter impossibility. Adversity began innocently enough. In 1894, Goebel sought and expected to receive his party’s nomination for a vacant Court of Appeals seat. Factionalism within Goebel’s own Democratic party, however, denied him the nomination.

    The factionalism, which went back many years, had grown out of severe personal animosities as well as political rivalries. Theodore Hallam and Harvey Myers, Jr. were longtime foes of Goebel’s...

  8. 5 ʺTHERE IS GOING TO BE A HOT FIGHTʺ
    (pp. 52-69)

    In November 1898, William Goebel wrote to his brother Justus about the political situation as he began formal campaigning for governor. Living an almost puritanical life himself, the older brother moralistically attacked two Covington politicians as drunkards who spent all their time in pool halls and at racetracks. The next mayor must be an enemy of these men, he wrote, for “I shall not permit any man to be elected Mayor on the Democratic ticket unless he is entirely satisfactory to me. I shall beat any man that I do not like with the Election Commission. I turned over to...

  9. 6 ʺI ASK NO QUARTER AND I FEAR NO FOEʺ
    (pp. 70-85)

    The campaign opened at the Democratic stronghold of Mayfield on 12 August. Initial speeches traditionally set the tone for the entire race and were widely reprinted. In the period before his speech, when candidates usually mingled with the crowd to shake hands and tell jokes, Goebel was ill at ease, restless, nervous, almost aloof. The irony became evident: whereas Goebel appealed to the masses with his stands on issues, his personality belied that appeal. The contradiction would haunt him as he spoke warmly and with strong feeling about matters that affected and interested the masses; but on a person-to-person basis...

  10. 7 ʺFORCE WILL BE MET WITH FORCEʺ
    (pp. 86-99)

    God Reigns and the Government in Frankfort Still Lives,” proclaimed a Republican headline as the first returns came in. The Democrat had lost. More cautiously and accurately, theCourier-Journalpredicted, “Slow Returns and Close Finish.” The worst had happened: an extremely narrow margin separated Taylor and Goebel. In a year that should have been Democratic, that party’s nominee had barely tied the Republican, if that.

    The apparent closeness of the vote reflected in part the Democratic candidate’s weakness in the agrarian, Populist, western part of the state, where Goebel failed to gain expected majorities. Except for heavily black-populated Christian County,...

  11. 8 ʺLOYAL TO THE GREAT COMMON PEOPLEʺ
    (pp. 100-108)

    On the cold Tuesday morning of 30 January 1900—despite the many rumored threats to his safety circulating around Frankfort—Goebel did not alter his routine. Coming from his room in the Capitol Hotel, he joined his allies and virtual bodyguards Eph Lillard, warden of the penitentiary, and Jack P. “Dirk Knife” Chinn. The three started for the Capitol building a few blocks away.

    As they entered the Capitol grounds the men mentioned how unexpectedly clear the area was, and they wondered aloud if any more “mountaineers” would be arriving. Lillard then moved ahead to make certain that the Capitol...

  12. 9 THE SEARCH FOR THE ASSASSIN
    (pp. 109-125)

    The legend had begun. Irvin Cobb recalled later that journalists immediately scoffed at Goebel’s deathbed oratory. Suspicious because William Goebel had given little evidence of such eloquence in life, he and other reporters had inquired and found that these were not the words uttered. According to Cobb’s version, Goebel had craved a favorite dish and, after eating it, had told a physician before becoming unconscious, “Doc, that was a damned bad oyster.” Goebel may have told his friends to be “loyal to the great common people,” but more likely he did not. Initial accounts did not contain this statement. What...

  13. 10 ʺHE IS GOEBEL, THAT IS ALLʺ
    (pp. 126-132)

    Although Goebel was the only American governor who died in office as a result of an assassination—among the roughly 1300 who have served—he was not the victim of a unique act. Before him in 1893, the Kentucky-born mayor of Chicago had been shot. In 1901 President McKinley was killed, and eleven years later Theodore Roosevelt was wounded by a would-be assassin. In Tennessee former United States Senator and recently defeated gubernatorial nominee Edward Ward Carmack died of wounds suffered in a 1908 shooting. In Kentucky itself the violent spirit of the “dark and bloody ground” had resulted earlier...

  14. Bibliographical Note
    (pp. 133-137)